keep the faith Margate

Margate in its heyday was the ultimate pleasure resort. With beautiful sandy beaches, grand guesthouses, lively nightlife, endless forms of family entertainment and arcade gaming; it was truly a hub of activity. But like many other seaside towns, when the public started to take advantage of cheaper, more affordable flights, it suffered as holidaymakers began to vacation abroad, bringing things to a quiet close. The 80s saw Margate take a change for the worse and the signs of its decline are still visible today. A forgotton gem, little real attention has been given to this area, which is bursting with enthusiasm and full of possibility. Despite its harships, the town is still very much alive in its people and it is them that really make it. Though things are not what they were in the past, there is an attitude of faith in the town and one that is catching. A revival is possible and in waiting.
By Mary Stamm-Clarke

The ‘Dreamland welcomes you’ sign is one of the first things you see when pulling into Margate train station. The site was once home to various forms of amusements and entertainment since 1880, including a cinema, Victorian roller coaster, gardens, cafes and arcades. However, after numerous owners and much deterioration, Dreamland finally ceased operation in 2003 and has since remained derelict.

With thanks to Miles Croft and everyone we met along the way.

keep the faith Margate

Valerie Manning. Manning Seafood stall is a local family business that has been running for 50 years. Pitched on the Margate Harbour Arm, it serves some of the most boasted about seafood snacks in town. Valerie, who has lived in Margate all her life, says she would never leave. ‘What more could I want? Everyday I get to work beside this beautiful sea.’

A family walk along Margate’s sandy beach.

keep the faith Margate

Keith Marsh. Keith owned and ran Supergift, Margate’s largest beach shop on the Arligton site, for a total of 32 years. The store was iconic and well situated for attracting visitors. Last summer, the council ordered Keith to move so a new Tesco could be put in place. With no say in the matter, he was forced to relocate and open a smaller sweet shop, much against his will. He loves Margate and thinks it’s sad the council could so flippantly remove an integral part of history from the town, ‘I loved my shop and it’s a crying shame they’ve made us all move.’

The proposed plans for development on the Arlington site are highly controversial. A number of shops have already closed and tenants in the Arlington tower, who face eviction, are fighting to save their homes.

keep the faith Margate

Terry Purser. All of Terry’s family have rich connections with Margate. His uncle is Keith of Supergifts, his mother owns the local joke shop, his cousin owns a retro shop and his grandfather was nicknamed Mr. Margate. Like Keith, both he and his mother had businesses in Arlington site and too were forced to leave. Although Margate has seen many changes in his time, he says he still loves the place and it’s people and says he’ll never leave.

Terry’s former burger bar and his mother’s former joke store.

keep the faith Margate

Howard Watson. Howard owns a comic book and memorabilia shop in Margate’s Old Town. Business, he says, is very much up and down. Howard has always lived in Margate. The 70s, he recalls, ‘was full of day-trippers and the streets were so busy you could barely walk down the road.’ ‘There was lots more going on. There were regular boat trips and donkey rides, amusement arcades, shops and stalls.’ As a teenager, Howard had a job on the pier (destroyed in a storm in 1978), walking around with a squirrel monkey on his shoulder. ‘I’d take photos of tourists with the monkey. I’d take their address and in ten days they’d get their photos in the post.’

People walk along the Margate Harbour Arm at low tide. The Margate Harbour Arm provides various amenities and is also home to the Turner Contemporary.

keep the faith Margate

Joe Brown. Joe owns Showtime Retro with business partner Louise Helen Darrell Smith in Margate’s up and coming Old Town. ‘I love Margate, it’s great and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else!’ Born in Margate Hospital in 1977, Joe’s family ended up here having settled down from the fairground industry in 1966. ‘They’d had enough of travelling and my grandpa was here in Ramsgate taking people’s weights as a side show entertainment.’ ‘My dad took a position selling fruit and hats at the Lido and scarves in the winter. He was the first concessionary showman at Dreamland when Associated Leisure took it over in ‘68. I was a babe in arms at Dreamland and have many, so many fond memories of the place.’ ‘I know Margate’s had it rough but you’ve got to stay positive. It’s the people that make the place and my people are here.’

Marine Terrace is the stretch of Margate seafront most often identified with the town. It’s also home to Dreamland, which was opened as an amusement park and pleasure complex in 1935. It housed a ballroom, cinema, scenic railway (now in skeletal remains), cafes, bars and amusement arcades. Though it changed hands a couple of times after its initial opening, it was a central hub of activity particularly in the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s. In 2006 after 20 years of deterioration it finally closed its doors to the public.

keep the faith Margate

Deborah Ellis. Owner of Madam Popoff Vintage, Deborah opened her shop just two months ago. Although she’s from Sidcup, when her parents divorced in 1988 her father moved to Margate and she’d visit him frequently and for summer vacations. She loves Margate for its seaside charm and reckons things are improving.

Punters enjoy the sun at BeBeached Café on Margate Habour Arm.

keep the faith Margate

Lisa Hemingway. Lisa has had great success in opening the Cupcake Café in Margate’s Old Town. She has had the shop for 18 months, 6 months prior to the Turner Contemporary’s opening. She says that the Turner Contemporary has greatly improved her business but things are still very tough. Lisa knows the area well and is considering opening another café. Her parents used to own a Guesthouse in Cliftonville, which was a top spot for holiday makers. Much of her family still reside in Margate and assist in the running of the Cupcake Café. One sister makes the cupcakes, her other sister makes gifts for sale in the shop, her mum makes the aprons, her dad the soup and she has three or four nieces that help with the waitressing.

The Turner Contemporary opened in April 2011 as a contemporary arts gallery and impetus for the regeneration of the town. The title commemorates Turner, who went to school in Margate and returned frequently throughout his life to paint his famous sunsets. Locals have a mixed view on the build. For a few, business has improved but many feel the money could have been used in other ways, such in the regeneration of Dreamland. The Turner Contemporary attracts day-trippers from out of town but this is not necessarily something members of the local community feel they are a part of.

keep the faith Margate

Margate beach in April.

keep the faith Margate

Jo Murray. Jo has just moved up from Brighton after finishing a course in Fine Art Sculpture. Her partner is a photographer. She has been here since September and says that everyone is really friendly. She loves being by the sea and the fact the town is small but ‘big enough’ or ‘compact’. She admits there is a growing art scene into which she and her husband are integrating themselves.

The Parade is a central spot in Margate with pubs, cafes and shops on the seafront.

keep the faith Margate

Anthony Wait. Anthony claims he was the first artist to open a studio in Margate. After five years in the Merchant Navy, ‘I came down in the 80s drawn to the smell of candyfloss and chips, wouldn’t you be?’ He also wanted to be by the sea for inspiration, like Turner. Although he admits that Margate isn’t what it was in the past, ‘it will always keep its campness, somewhat tacky round the edges feel. It will always keep that carry on, titillated humour. But everything is fluid and everything changes.’

A couple look out to sea along Fort Lower Promenade.

keep the faith Margate

Karl & Chris. Karl moved to Margate in 1981 from Basingstoke. After seeing the town go downhill he says there has been a bit of a revival and that a bohemian scene seems to be emerging. Chris is new to town and has moved down from Birmingham with his girlfriend to be by his parents and the sea. He is currently looking for labour He loves how friendly people are is gradually getting to know his way around. Carl and Chris were digging up lugworms on the beach to later use as bait for fishing.

Fishing is a popular pastime in Margate, particularly on the end of the Margate Harbour Arm.

keep the faith Margate

Adam. Adam is 17 and currently studying at college. He grew up in Margate, minus a few years when he lived in Cumbria. He has been back in town for five months. Next year he’ll see if he can get an apprenticeship, ideally in carpentry, which he hopes will turn into a fulltime job. Although he says there’s not a whole lot to do, he’s into a lot of sports and athletics and is part of the Thanet Dragons Parkour Group.

The Cliftonville Lido is a grade II listed site built in the 1920s to cater to the popularity of sea bathing It was a large, modern seaside complex with bars, cafes and restaurants on several levels and a large open air swimming pool projecting into the sea. There were a series of underground amenities too. The Lido was hugely popular right through to the 60s and at one point was owned by the same company as Dreamland, Associated Leisure. A winter storm in 1978, which destroyed Margate Pier, also wreaked havoc at the Lido and reconstruction work was never considered. The site remains derelict with nothing but ghosts of the past.

keep the faith Margate

Matt Wood. Owner of the family business, Strokes Adventure Golf in Westbrooke. Matt says, ‘business has been picking up year on year. The Turner has been good for us but we still have to close down in the winter, which makes things hard. I’m hoping Margate will continue to improve’. Matt enjoys the sea and is raising his family here. The Margate area is where he too was raised. He doesn’t want to leave but likes knowing if he wants to take a break its very easy to get to places like London.

Though Matt’s business has survived, many shops in Margate’s town centre have been forced to close down. Rents are at a high and simply unsustainable. Furthermore, the opening of a major retail park in 2005, Westwood Cross, meant many of Margate’s larger high street shops got up and left.

keep the faith Margate

Peter Clements-Bullett. As a child, Peter’s parents had a guesthouse in Cliftonville and a guesthouse in Westbooke. ‘I was brought up in the 60s here were there were thousands of people coming to the area. The place was so prosperous. Everyone came here for holidays. It was all very ‘la de dar and the seafront was simply stunning. There were coloured lights everywhere.’ Peter has owned and run the Mad Hatter Tea Rooms for 17 years now. ‘I set up shop where there was literally no one here. Margate is slowly improving though. Eight to ten years ago it was really, really terrible. Every two buildings were derelict. Everything was in a state.’ ‘In ten years’ time we’ll see Margate will have taken off again. There will have been a revival and the seafront will improve’.

Cliftonville, which is often considered as Margate, was once the most prosperous areas and is now the most deprived. From the Victorian era until the late 70s it was considered very upmarket with grand guesthouses that attracted middle class holidaymakers. As holidaymakers began to vacation abroad, many houses fell to residential use of multiple occupants. Cliftonvill now was one Britain’s larger refugee communities and where drugs and crime statistics are at a high.

keep the faith Margate

Jane Bishop. Jane acquired the Warpole Bay hotel in 1995, which is arguably the grandest hotel in the region of Margate. Many of its guests comprise those that come to visit the Turner Contemporary. For Jane, owning the Warpole is a dream come true. As a teenager, when she was at boarding school in Chatham, her now husband, Peter and her courted at Warpole Bay, which was popular for bathing. ‘We have so many romantic memories of the place and we were just in awe of the hotel. We were very poor ourselves, we would walk by the hotel and see how the other half lived and say ‘if only’.’ ‘As for Margate, there’s a buzz happening at the minute, a new found confidence in the town and I think it’s brilliant.’

The Warpole Bay Hotel is a step back in time to the bygone era of the 40s. Built for discerning guests in 1914, after years of operation it closed in 1989 and fell into disuse. Still on the market in 1994, the Bishop family, after years of hard saving, bought the property for their Silver Wedding anniversary and restored it to its original self.

sunset over Margate bay

All rights reserved. © Mary Stamm-Clarke 2012

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